Patterico's Pontifications


L.A. Times: George Washington Served One Term

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 12:52 pm

The L.A. Times once again gets a basic fact wrong:

“John Adams,” which comes to a close Sunday night, has devoted seven beautifully shot hours to defying the often overly patriotic legends of our past with a toothache-and-all portrait of a man who helped define modern democracy, albeit grumbling every step of the way.

In his portrayal of our second president, Paul Giamatti creates a man perpetually dissatisfied, disgusted by the preening ambition of politics even as he is infected by it. If his relentless crankiness was a bit hard for some of us to take in early episodes, in the second half of the series it makes much more sense. While exhorting angry men to throw off the shackles of tyranny offers many opportunities for rhetorical fabulousness, setting up a new government is a bureaucratic nightmare, with oversized personalities disagreeing over things both petty and fundamental. George Washington (David Morse) so quickly tired of the infighting among his Cabinet and vagaries of public opinion that he stepped down from the presidency after a single term. “I know now what it is like to be disliked,” he says to Adams, his perpetually disliked vice president.

Of course, George Washington served two terms, not one.

Straining to give them the benefit of the doubt, I wonder: does the miniseries somehow portray Washington as having served only one term? I haven’t seen it, but I doubt it. [UPDATE: Make that “seriously doubt it.” See the UPDATE below.]

Lefty blogger Steve Smith, who tipped me to this, is beside himself with amazement at how they could get such a basic fact wrong. Go his post for his amusing cries of disgust, which conclude with this:

It’s enough to make a lefty sympathetic to Patterico. Does the fact-checker at the Times have to regularly drink water out of the toilet or lose their back teeth from subsisting on a diet of rocks to get that job?

I don’t know, Steve. But I hear they use the paper to housebreak him.

UPDATE: Steve also provides evidence that the miniseries got it right.

UPDATE x2: Dafydd ab Hugh has watched the miniseries and says the miniseries got it right. But he has a theory as to why the L.A. Times got it wrong.

27 Responses to “L.A. Times: George Washington Served One Term”

  1. This is not just a simple factual mistake, although it would be funny enough at that, but this shows a complete ignorance of why George Washington left office after two terms, and exactly why his choosing to do so was so historic, and so unprecedented in not just US history but world history.

    Astounding ignorance McNamara shows the failure of the educational system. Probably a humanities major.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  2. Agree completely on all points, SPQR. That is an appalling error. Would love to see her thoughts on Washington and the Newburgh conspiracy.

    I did come across this other site criticizing her selective perception of reality, though.

    driver (faae10)

  3. SPQR – She’s probably a history major.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  4. DRJ, you just want to destroy the last vestiges of my illusions, don’t you?

    SPQR (26be8b)

  5. this is a lot worse than the trivial crash-distance-to-compton-airport the other day. shouldn’t this be a firing offense at a respectable newspaper?

    assistant devil's advocate (a697be)

  6. Next thing, the Los Angeles Times will be blaming gun violence on Prop. 13 and California’s state budget deficient on the 2nd. Amendment. Where’s Shelby Coffey III when he’s most needed?

    Norris (9375e7)

  7. C’mon,Driver, she merely got Southern California and Southern Florida mixed up. It is warm here in February; there is plenty of Spanish spoken here by both locals and tourists. She just didn’t notice that the sun rises over the ocean here, that’s all.
    What’s the big deal? It’s only a three thousand mile* difference.

    *very, very rough approximation off the top of my head

    kishnevi (e4fabe)

  8. shouldn’t this be a firing offense at a respectable newspaper?

    Who said the LAT is a respectable newspaper?

    kishnevi (e4fabe)

  9. She’s probably a history major.
    …and was probably taught that the founding of America was merely a rich white male construct assembled to crush women, enslave blacks and murder Indians under the pretense of a constitution.

    Perfect Sense (b6ec8c)

  10. From Steve, The Concerned Troll’s post:

    Moreover, his second term is even alluded to in the aforereferenced Adams miniseries: for example, Abigail has to convince PigVomit at one point that despite his somewhat truculent reservations, he should continue to serve as Vice President in Washington’s second term.

    This could be the start of a beautiful love/hate relationship. Though I’ll admit, while I’ve got deep respect for John Adams, I’m more of a fan of his cousin Samuel. And if they could see what has become of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, vomit would likely be involved.

    Pablo (99243e)

  11. I don’t have it TiVo’d any more, but I distinctly remember a scene in which Washington “leaving office after only two terms” (from memory, but either an exact quote or very close paraphrase) was being discussed between John and Abigail at or near the beginning of John Adam’s term.

    The series made, comparatively, a much bigger deal of Washington’s election to his first term, and of course there was not much to report about Adams’ terms as vice president beyond his frustration with the office’s meager responsibilities. (Roughly eight years are compressed into a couple of scenes, one in which he gets to cast a deciding vote to break a Senate tie over ratification of a treaty with Britain, and a second in which he’s “presiding” while reading a newspaper; his attempt to participate in the debate draws a rebuke from a senator). So if the reporter only knows American history from watching this miniseries, but wasn’t paying even moderately close attention, he or she might have missed references in the dialog to Washington’s two terms as president and Adams’ two terms as his vice president.

    I assure you that David McCullough would not allow his name and Pulitzer Prize-winning book to be associated with a mini-series that got this sort of basic historical fact wrong.

    The reporter is inexcusably stupid, as were the reporter’s editors.

    Beldar (36b209)

  12. There is a bright side to this.
    Our host could cut down the time he devotes to us, and do more productive endeavors (such as spend more time with wife & kids), by just changing the focus of PP from the mistakes made by the LAT, to just noting the factual accuracies in the paper.
    Sure would take less time.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  13. Tracked down a bio for Mary McNamara @ Simon & Shuster, her publisher for “Oscar Season”:


    Mary McNamara has worked for the Los Angeles Times for seventeen years, writing extensively about the inner workings of Hollywood. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children. Oscar Season is her first novel.”

    Just what in her background is she hiding?

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  14. Well, essentially you are advocating that Patterico mention the daily temperature record on the weather page of the LAT, Another Drew. Would be easier than his current efforts but more boring.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  15. A minor point but . . . Mary McNamara is one of those lefty Calendar writers who even admits to her liberal tilt. Thus Steve Smith deserves high integrity rating for denouncing one of his kind.

    james fulton (56a0a8)

  16. SPQR…
    Well, as I posited, it would free-up his time for other matters, wouldn’t it?

    Plus, he won’t have to dip into the family budget for so much aspirin, and dry-wall repairs.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  17. She also slipped in a typical LAT-ism commenting on how prior shows about the Founders were “overly patriotic.” Yeah, just a bunch of slave owners and pedophiles.

    And why are the LAT and HBO losing audience again?

    Patricia (f56a97)

  18. Kishnevi,
    Spatial analysis is a really big deal if you are a Giant Burmese Python trying to slither your way to California from Florida. Those miles add up in slither time. Although why they would want to eat hippie wannabes I don’t know. Do read this, to find out where she and her friends are coming from.

    driver (faae10)

  19. I was a history major, btw, and am back in grad school for same. It’s actually fun, if you like getting face-to-face with people who are used to arguing anonymously on the Internet. It’s worth the price of admission.

    driver (faae10)

  20. Driver, that puts them all the way up to Fort Pierce. They’ll probably turn around and come back this way. They actually have cold weather sometimes up in Fort Pierce.

    kishnevi (b0c669)

  21. I like Dafydd ab Hugh’s theory myself.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  22. Mre inaccruacies from the L.A. SLIMES

    krazy kagu (0225b1)

  23. They got it right. At one point Mrs. Adams marvels to her husband that Washington is stepping down after “only two terms” when he could have been President for the rest of his life. Never mind that he didn’t live out Adams’ single term.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  24. I’m reading a couple of books about the Revolution and its aftermath. Washington really really didn’t wish to run again for president a second time. Of course, sun-stroke victim Ms. McNamara wouldn’t appreciate that subtlety. GW was persuaded to go for two terms by everyone in the US Nomenklatura at that time, a cast of dozens.

    The fact that he retired to Mt. Vernon after two terms is seen as one of the most unselfish, unegomaniacal actions in western political history by Alfred North Whitehead, who taught Bernard Russell almost all he knew about math & philosophy. Of course, what would a mere Brit genius know compared to persnickety Ms. McNamara, who probably flunked civics in high school?

    I understand the LAT hires for reasons other than journalistic prowess.

    daveinboca (d0db99)

  25. Daveinboca, if only ten percent of what Patterico writes about the LAT is true, then it is obvious that they MUST hire for reasons other than journalistic prowess.

    Note: this is not to say that Patterico writes anything that is not true. While I have disagreed with a few of his conclusions or opinions, I have yet to catch him in an uncorrected error of fact.

    Peter (d671ab)

  26. My criticism had less to do with Ms. McNamara than it did with the shoddiness of the LA Times editorial review of her article. There is a whole universe of things I am admittedly ignorant about, some of which may be common knowledge to other members of the public, so I can’t fault the writer for being ignorant of early American history; heck, I couldn’t name, or hum, for that matter, a single song by Mariah Carey, and she just passed Elvis for having more Number One singles.

    But I assumed that when the Times, or any classy newspaper, sees fit to publish an article as the lead story in one of its sections, it first takes the time to review the piece, sentence by sentence, and that someone during that process would have caught that howler. It begs credulity that the Times does not have a single editor who knew the number of terms Washington served as President; it would be like not having a single person on staff who could name the four Beatles.

    Steve Smith (39f3b5)

  27. I’m pretty sure Mary McNamara’s father is a history lecturer with a good reputation. But sheesh, gotta agree with #26 – where are the editors that provide the layers of fact checking? M. M. probably just had a brain freeze and if was asked out of the blue how many terms GW served would promptly answer 2. But I have no excuse for the layers of editors.
    Next thing you know, they will be claiming that President Bush linked Sadaam Hussein to the 9/11 Bombing Attacks . (oh, wait, they already did that)

    seaPea (480ecf)

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